In order to effectively deliver business value, collaboration tools must be closely linked to specific use case scenarios. Content-centric business processes such as contract management won’t benefit from Web 2.0 collaboration tools without a comprehensive ECM backbone in place. Here's a look at a couple of examples.

Many people today equate the term “enterprise collaboration” with Web 2.0 tools such as wikis, portals, social networks and the like. Certainly, these tools can enable collaboration within the enterprise, but they’re not always the most effective tools for optimizing collaborative business processes like grant or contract management. For example, taking a wiki-like approach to a document-centric process such as contract management would open the enterprise to a great deal of unnecessary financial and legal risk, due to difficulties in keeping track of changes.

Risk management is one reason that many organizations still create and administer contracts using manual, paper-based processes. An inability to find compliant -- and cost-effective -- automation and collaboration tools is another.

Some organizations get their feet wet by first improving access to finalized contracts by adding them to the ECM repository. For example, Cary, NC, used to keep paper contracts in its Town Clerk’s Office. When a staff member needed to see a contract, the clerk would look up reference numbers from an AS/400-based Contract Control System, locate the file from a labyrinth of file cabinets and make a copy for the requester. After Cary implemented an ECM system, authorized staff gained immediate access to finalized contracts from their desktop computers.

Although improving access to finalized contracts enhances enterprise productivity, it doesn’t necessarily enhance enterprise collaboration. That’s where an ECM system’s business process management (BPM) tools come into play.

Collaborative Contract Management Using ECM

Automating the creation, review and approval of contracts with ECM and BPM drives consistency throughout the process. Consistency, in turn, enables transparency and accountability -- both of which are essential in the face of ever-increasing regulation.

Managing paper contracts creates huge bottlenecks because only one person can view a contract at any given time without complicating version control. With ECM, employees gain simultaneous access to the most current version of a contract the moment it’s captured into the repository, accelerating the speed with which contracts are created, reviewed and approved.

As conducted within the structure of ECM, contract management can be broken into three distinct phases:

Compilation

The organization (usually the Legal Department) builds the contract. During this stage, it’s important to identify and include all relevant documentation, including contract clauses, schedules, SLAs and so on. Putting together a master template and clause library using an ECM system allows the organization to handle the workload in a more cost-effective manner.

Collaboration

The organization negotiates and implements the contract. This is typically the collaboration-heavy phase of the process. It’s also the point at which an ECM system with robust BPM and library services tools comes in especially handy, since automated routing ensures that no changes are made without appropriate authorization, and features such as check-in/check-out and versioning simplify version control. Audit trails are essential in mitigating risk by tracking exactly how contracts are accessed, altered and distributed.

Codification

The organization saves and stores the finalized contract according to its retention policies. An ECM system with DoD 5015.2-certified records management functionality simplifies the formal management of contracts by automatically tracking and managing retention schedules and final disposition based on the rules and regulations governing the organization’s business practices.

The Corporate Commission of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Indians uses ECM to manage 500 contracts a year for its 12 businesses. Lance Dutcher, Systems Engineer for the Corporate Commission, explains that ECM accelerates both the compilation and collaboration stages of the contract management process: “Most of our documents are now routed within three days or less, instead of weeks and in some cases months. We’ve been able to have 12 people at different properties sign a document in less than 90 minutes.”

Collaborative Contract Management Using ECM and SharePoint

Once an organization has a comprehensive ECM backbone in place, it can further enhance collaboration by incorporating Web 2.0 tools such as SharePoint into its contract management process.

The Virginia Port Authority, for example, had been using SharePoint to enhance collaboration among its staff for years, but until it implemented ECM in 2009, it was still managing RFPs and vendor contracts in a manual, paper-based manner.

Today, instead of compiling paper contracts and forcing its selection committee to make hard-copy changes, the Port Authority collects electronic proposals and automatically routes them into a dedicated workspace in SharePoint for contract evaluation, scoring, changes and selection. Integration between SharePoint and the Port Authority’s ECM system ensures that once the collaboration phase is finished and contracts are finalized, they’re automatically pulled into the ECM system and retained according to the organization’s contract retention schedules.

From SharePoint, Port Authority users can access the contract by clicking on a URL that takes them directly to the document stored in the ECM repository. The URL placeholder in SharePoint ensures that the data is synchronized between the two systems, simplifying version control. When searching for a contract, users run a search in SharePoint that seamlessly provides results from both the ECM and SharePoint repositories.

Choose Collaboration Tools Based on Use Case Scenarios

In order to effectively deliver business value, collaboration tools must be closely linked to specific use case scenarios. When it comes to content-centric business processes such as contract management, it makes sense to establish a comprehensive ECM backbone to mitigate risk, enhance efficiency and facilitate collaboration before employing portals or other Web 2.0 tools.

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